So I turned 26 at the beginning of the year, and instead of ringing in my birthday with my close friends by partying in Manchester’s Northern Quarter, I decided to book myself a mini trip to Europe. Barcelona was numero uno on my destination list; I had never been to Spain before whilst scores of people I know have told me how fantastic Barcelona is, with tonnes of beautiful landmarks to explore and various different eateries to try. In addition I was fully aware that the city and its sites had been used as locations for a couple of films on my to-watch list; Woody Allen’s Vicky Cristina Barcelona and the film adaptation of Bernd Eichinger’s novel about a young man obsessed with bottling the natural scent of a woman, Perfume: The Story of a Murderer. So I booked a cheap flight with RyanAir, found some lodgings in the Mediterranean Youth Hostel for 20 euro a night and set out on my adventure at 4am on the 3rd of January!
My first stop was the Hospital de la Santa Creu i Sant Pau; a hospital designed by the Catalan modernist architect Lluís Domènech i Montaner with the poor in mind. The front facing façade of the administration building, the part you see when walking up Avenue de Gaudí, has two outstretched wings, symbolic of an embrace, welcoming the sick and needy to a place of care and compassion. I purchased a ticket (under 10 euro), sorted an audio guide and took a stroll through the complex, in awe of the incredibly thoughtful architecture. The pavilions behind the administration building are so cleverly designed to look like a house from the front but stretch back further than you realise to accommodate more patients. Additionally each pavilion is a modernist creation, both internally and externally splashed with colour and interesting shapes; green window frames, yellow roof tiles following the curve of a dome, with mosaic art lining the walls and ceilings.
That evening I decided to go to an extremely popular seafood chain of restaurants, La Paradeta. The closest one to me was about a 20 minute walk away, and owing to its internet popularity, I thought I was being clever by setting off 40 minutes before it was due to open at 8pm. I arrived and there was already a queue of about 20-30 people waiting… so much for my plan! Nonetheless this restaurant is awesome! You walk in the doors and are greeted by a variety of seafood on display, freshly caught and cleaned, for you to choose from. I chose fried calamari and grilled cuttlefish, with a massive salad on the side, small bread rolls and mayonnaise. I also ordered a big pint of beer and a bottle of water just to wash it all down. The whole meal came to under 28 euro; a steal in my opinion considering the quality and freshness of the food!
After gorging on seafood, I headed over to the Gothic Quarter to a little gin haven called Rubí that I had read about online. This bar has SO many unique flavoured gins; strawberry mint, liquorice, balsamic, chocolate. I settled on the lemongrass and Jamaican pepper gin and the bartender made me a G&T and a coconut mojito which only cost me 12 euro! Ridiculously cheap price for two double strength cocktails! Both were divine; the pepper in the G&T almost overpowered the dryness of the drink and gave it a nice kick while the mojito had just the perfect amount of coconutty flavour. I loved this bar! It was in a kind of off the grid location and with only myself, the bartender and a small group on the opposite side of the room, it wasn’t too busy and had a nice, chilled vibe.
I decided to dedicate the second day of my trip to exploring the locations used in the two films I mentioned earlier. A very helpful guy on reception at the hostel told me about Plaça de Sant Felip Neri, a small town square used in Perfume: The Story of a Murderer. This location is the place where Jean-Baptiste Grenouille commits his first murder. It comes across as creepy in the film; the scene portrays a young woman, pitting yellow plums whilst Grenouille and his sensational smelling power lurks behind her, sniffing her scent. He ends up killing her accidentally by covering her mouth to stifle her screams once she discovers him behind her. Certainly not very romantic but the square itself couldn’t be more opposite! I ventured to this quaint little site three times over the span of the day; in the afternoon it was host to the hustle and bustle of the city, various tourists and families milling about however in the evening, it was much more serene. A guy sat by the fountain strumming his guitar, singing a soft melody and couples wandered about hand in hand.
I spent the rest of the day marvelling at Antoni Gaudí’s famous works, two locations featured briefly in Vicky Cristina Barcelona; La Sagrada Família and Park Güell. Honestly the scenes where these landmarks appeared were the best moments in the film! The rest of it was rather dull and the characters were far too irritating. First I went to La Sagrada Família; a church so magnificent you have to see it to believe it. The external façades tell different stories; one shows the nativity, whilst the opposite side depicts the twelve stages of the cross, statues so intricately carved and detailed. My favourite has to be the statue of Jesus, shrouded in a cloak, with a complete look of despair and agony etched across his stone face. The interior is even more phenomenal; columns built up like trees in order to connect heaven and earth, beautiful stained glass windows, cooler tones on the east where the sun rises and warmer tones on the west where it sets and icon crests adorning four columns to represent the gospel writers, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. If you ever visit La Sagrada Família, I recommend purchasing the 25 euro audio tour ticket; it is interesting to walk around the basilica and learn about why Gaudí designed it the way he did. I cannot wait to return there upon its estimated completion in 2026!
After a quick, delicious bite of hummus with fried lamb, fetteh al-makdous and pitta bread in Reem Al Bawadi, an Arabic restaurant, I hopped on the bus to Park Güell. This park is lovely if you want to escape the business of the city to just enjoy a cool, quiet stroll but the main attraction is undoubtedly the monumental zone; Gaudí’s colourful mosaic balcony that provides you with a fantastic view of the two pavilions at the park’s entrance, the city of Barcelona itself and the Mediterranean sea in the distance. Such an epic experience just to sit on the smooth, tiled terrace and enjoy the scenery! Park Güell and Gaudí’s modernist architecture are a must-see if you ever go to Barcelona! I must say though that it would definitely be worth booking in advance for both La Sagrada Família and Park Güell as they both host an extraordinary number of visitors daily and you wouldn’t want to be disappointed if you don’t get the chance to see either!
In the evening, I wandered back over to the Gothic Quarter and visited a little tapas bar called La Alcoba Azul recommended by my cousin. This restaurant is quite small and gets extremely busy! However the staff were lovely; they gave me a complimentary tomato tuna dish served on toasted bread as an appetiser for the potato tapas and the melted cheese served with lashings of blueberry jam and bread that I ordered. I cannot say I am an expert on tapas but I will admit this restaurant’s food was to die for; the portion sizes were good, the flavours were uniquely delicious and the price of the food (about 15 euro) was extremely decent!
I spent my third full day of my trip away from the city, taking a train to Montserrat; a lovely little village with a monastery based on the side of a mountain. Sounds daunting having to travel away from the city alone but it could not be easier to get to Montserrat! I made my way from the hostel towards Plaça Espanya to catch the R5 train heading to Manresa. Make sure you look for the orange R5 sign in the square for the right entrance underground to the trains; don’t be fooled in to thinking you can take any of the stairways marked with a red M down! The return train ticket cost me roughly 20 euro and it included a return cable car trip up the mountain to the village. I jumped on the 10:36am train and about an hour later, I was in a cable car, gliding my way up to heaven on earth. Nothing compares to the experience of walking out of that little yellow cab and seeing the landscape that surrounds Montserrat in all its glory! That view cannot be beaten and the tranquillity of Montserrat as a whole only improves its quality!
I wandered around Montserrat for about four or five hours in total before heading back to the R5 train bound for Barcelona to pack and prepare myself for the journey home. That evening I decided to stay local to the hostel, walking the short distance to the Arc de Triomf, snapping a few photos and FaceTiming my mum there. I’d say the arch is a definite tourist hotspot! Crowds of people surround it so I would take extra caution when there; guard your possessions and do not let anything out of your sight at any point. I was told numerous times, by various different people, to take extra care of my bag out and about in Barcelona but I did feel particularly vulnerable at the arch. Luckily for me there was a burger joint called La Foga nearby so after admiring the arch for about half an hour or so, I went for a massive delicious burger, held together by a breadstick with loaded nachos on the side! The perfect meal to wrap up such an epic adventure!
Have you ever been to Barcelona? Is there somewhere I didn’t visit that I should have done? Let me know in the comments!